Tesla unveils early Optimus robot prototype

It’s not the first car company to experiment with humanoid robots.

DETROIT — An early prototype of Tesla Inc.’s proposed humanoid robot Optimus walked slowly and awkwardly onto a stage, turned and waved to a cheering crowd at the company’s artificial intelligence event on Friday.

But the robot’s basic duties, with exposed wiring and electronics — as well as a later next-gen version that had to be carried onto the stage by three men — were a far cry from CEO Elon Musk’s vision of a human-like robot that can shapeshift World.

Musk told the crowd, many of whom may be hired by Tesla, that the robot can do a lot more than audiences saw on Friday. He said it’s also sensitive and “we just didn’t want it falling on his face.”

Musk suggested the problem with flashy robot demonstrations is that the robots “lack a brain” and don’t have the intelligence to navigate themselves, but he gave little evidence Friday that Optimus was smarter than robots that developed by other companies and researchers.

The demo failed to impress AI researcher Filip Piekniewski, who tweeted it was “pathetic” and a “complete and utter scam.” He said it would be “good to test falling as this thing is going to fall a lot”.

“None of this is cutting edge,” robotics expert Cynthia Yeung tweeted. “Hire some graduate students and attend some robotics conferences @Tesla.”

Yeung also questioned why Tesla went with a five-fingered human-like hand for its robot, noting that “there’s a reason why” warehouse robots developed by start-up companies have two-fingered or three-fingered pliers or use vacuum-based grippers.

Musk said Friday night was the first time the early robot went on stage without a tether. Tesla’s goal, he said, is to produce an “extremely capable” robot in large numbers — potentially millions of them — at a price that could be less than a car, which he estimated will cost less than $20,000 would.

Tesla shared video of the robot using artificial intelligence Tesla is testing in its “Full Self-Driving” vehicles, carrying boxes and placing a metal pole in what appears to be a factory machine. But there was no live demonstration of the robot doing the tasks.

Employees told the crowd in Palo Alto, California, as well as viewers via livestream, that they’ve been working on Optimus for six to eight months. People can probably buy an Optimus “within three to five years,” Musk said.

Employees said Optimus robots would have four fingers and a thumb with a tendon-like system so they could have the dexterity of humans.

The robot is aided by giant artificial intelligence computers tracking millions of video frames from “fully self-driving” cars. Similar computers would be used to teach the robots tasks, they said.

Experts in the robotics field have been skeptical that Tesla is close to launching legions of humanoid home robots that can do the “useful things” Musk wants them to do — say, cook dinner, mow the lawn, guard hold aging grandmother.

“If you’re trying to create a robot that’s both affordable and useful, a humanoid type of shape and size isn’t necessarily the best way forward,” said Tom Ryden, executive director of nonprofit startup incubator Mass Robotics.

Tesla isn’t the first automaker to be experimented with humanoid robots.

Honda introduced more than two decades ago Asimo, which resembled a life-size space suit and was shown in a carefully orchestrated demonstration capable of pouring liquid into a cup. Hyundai also owns a collection of humanoid and animal-like robots by acquiring robotics company Boston Dynamics in 2021. Ford has partnered with Oregon startup Agility Robotics, which makes robots with two legs and two arms that can walk and lift packages.

Ryden said automakers’ research into humanoid robotics could potentially lead to machines that can walk, climb and overcome obstacles, but impressive past demos have not resulted in an “actual usage scenario” that lives up to the hype.

“You learn a lot by understanding how humanoids work,” he said. “But in terms of having a humanoid as a product straight away, I’m not sure that’s going to be coming out any time soon.”

Critics also said years ago that Musk and Tesla couldn’t build a profitable new car company that uses batteries instead of gasoline for power.

Tesla is testing “full self-driving” vehicles on public roads, but they must be monitored by selected owners who must be ready to intervene at any time. The company has around 160,000 vehicles equipped with the test software on the road today.

Critics have said that the Teslas, which rely on cameras and powerful computers to drive themselves, don’t have enough sensors to drive safely. Tesla’s less powerful Autopilot driver assistance system, which uses the same camera sensors, is currently under investigation by US security agencies brake for no reason and repeatedly come across emergency vehicles with flashing lights parked along highways.

In 2019, Musk promised an autonomous fleet Robotaxis would be in use by the end of 2020. They are still being tested.

https://www.kvue.com/article/news/nation-world/tesla-optimus-robot/507-55f5a47e-1f92-4669-a9d9-3b808edfa7da Tesla unveils early Optimus robot prototype

Laura Coffey

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